Each state has passed its own laws governing wrongful death lawsuits. In this article, we'll look at a few key Mississippi laws that pertain to these kinds of cases, starting with how Mississippi defines "wrongful death." We'll also discuss the damages available in a wrongful death lawsuit in Mississippi, and the time limits for filing this kind of case in the state's civil court system.
"Wrongful Death" in Mississippi
Mississippi Code section 11-7-13 defines a "wrongful death" as a death that is caused by:
- "any real, wrongful or negligent act or omission"
- "unsafe machinery, way or appliances," or
- "the breach of any warranty" of fitness of any item intended for human consumption.
A wrongful death case may be brought if the death resulted from a negligent or wrongful act that would have entitled the deceased person to bring a personal injury case to court if he or she had lived. In this way, wrongful death cases are similar to personal injury cases. The primary difference is that the injured person is no longer alive to bring his or her own case to court. Instead, another party must bring the case to court on the deceased person's behalf.
Mississippi's wrongful death law clarifies that a wrongful death may be based not only on a "wrongful or negligent" act, but also on a product liability case, including a case in which a defective food or medication causes death.
Who May Bring a Mississippi Wrongful Death Claim?
The following parties may bring a wrongful death claim to court in Mississippi:
- the personal representative of the deceased person's estate
- the surviving spouse of the deceased person
- the surviving parent or child of the deceased person, and
- any surviving siblings of the deceased person.
When the surviving spouse of a deceased person brings a wrongful death claim to court, any damages are split equally between the surviving spouse and the children. If there is no surviving spouse or children, a surviving parent or sibling of the deceased person may bring the claim to court. In this case, any damages awarded are divided between the surviving parents and children.
A wrongful death claim is a civil lawsuit. It differs from a criminal case in two main ways. First, a wrongful death claim is filed by the personal representative or the surviving family members directly. A criminal case, by contrast, is filed by the prosecuting attorney's office. Second, liability in a wrongful death claim is expressed solely in terms of money damages paid by the defendant. In a criminal case, however, a conviction may include a sentence to jail or prison time, probation, or other penalties.
Damages in a Mississippi Wrongful Death Case
Damages in a Mississippi wrongful death claim are paid either to the estate or to the beneficiaries directly, depending on the category of loss. In addition, Mississippi "caps," or limits, non-economic damages in several types of cases.
Damages paid to the estate in a wrongful death case include:
- medical expenses, including emergency care, related to the deceased's final illness or injury
- funeral and burial expenses, and
- payments for damaged or destroyed property.
These damages are intended to pay the final bills the estate has incurred as a result of the deceased person's death. Damages paid to the beneficiaries directly include:
- pain and suffering incurred as a result of the loved one's untimely death
- loss of society and companionship of the deceased, and
- net cash value of the lost wages and benefits the deceased would likely have earned if he or she had lived, reduced to present value.
If the deceased left no instructions for naming a personal representative, had no will, and has no surviving family members, the state may bring an action known as a "survival claim." Any damages awarded in a survival claim are first used to pay the deceased person's creditors. Any remaining damages after creditors are paid are distributed to the deceased person's heirs at law.
Certain types of damages in Mississippi wrongful death claims are also "capped" as follows:
- Medical malpractice claims: $500,000
- Product liability claims: $1,000,000
- Pharmaceutical claims: $1,000,000
These caps affect only non-economic damages, like pain and suffering. They do not affect economic damages like medical bills, lost wages, or funeral and burial expenses.
Time Limits for Filing a Mississippi Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Mississippi has two separate time limits that apply to filing a wrongful death lawsuit in the state's civil courts. The deadline that applies in any particular case depends on the nature of the action that led to the wrongful death.
If the death was caused by an intentional act, such as assault or battery, the wrongful death claim must be filed within one year of the date of death. If the death was caused by negligence, the wrongful death claim must be filed within three years of the date of death.